Tag Archives: teaching

Teenagers, Teenagers

Spent today with teenagers who chose to give up their Saturday to compete in UIL Academics.

People trash talk teenagers all the time. But you know what? Young people make me happy.

They believe absolutely that they can do almost anything unless that belief has been sucked out of them. They will defend their beliefs with research and a well thought out argument. They are kind and caring and considerate, and they often reach out when they see someone hurting or alone. Even if they don’t know that someone.

They are smart! When I was in school we had to take math. Not Algebra. Math. And science? Physical Science and Biology. Social studies and English weren’t even required four years. Sure, some kids did more. But you didn’t have to to graduate. These kids take tons of tough classes and still work and juggle busy electives AND give up their weekends for UIL.

People talk about teen attitudes, and yeah, they can roll their eyes so far into the backs of their heads I wonder about their health. But you know what? Go hang out on twitter for more than five minutes. You’ll see they’re just in training.

Teenagers are great. Glad I got to spend my Saturday with a few.

School, School, The Golden Rule

I loved school from the start even though it didn’t always love me.

In Bald Knob at 5, I think, I got in trouble for singing off key on purpose. It’s the only thing I remember about being in school there except the time I accidentally stayed on the bus and was scared I’d never get home.

In first grade in Minnesota I couldn’t read even though everyone else in my class could. But I didn’t feel like a failure. I felt special because I got to sit at a little cubicle desk and use a film strip about dinosaurs to help me learn phonics. I never doubted I’d get to the circles, and I was determined to get to blue.

When we moved to Texas I liked learning, and I even got over the time my teacher screeched and threw my paper in the trash because I’d written “in the margin.” She didn’t define margin. I thought she meant the side with the holes. It seemed silly to me to lose all that great space on the side without holes.

The worst I felt was because my handwriting never quite measured up to that of the girls who stood at the board and showed off their penmanship with pretty curlicues and hearts to dot the perfect i. But I loved school.

I loved school until junior high when a math teacher crushed my world every single day by telling me it was dumb that I couldn’t do simple algebra.

But in high school a new math teacher helped me see the teacher was the one with the problem not me.

Monday I go back to school for the second semester of my 25th year teaching. During meditation today my brain kept drifting to everything that needs to be done and things I want to address and how excited I am to see the kids but how sad I’ll be to lose this time. That’s what this break has given me more than anything. Time to breathe, to play, to reflect, to just be.

I’ll miss this break. But I still love school.

What I’m loving right now: The Daily Calm meditation, The Young and the Restless, my down comforter, the Dallas Stars, Tyler Seguin’s answers on the Tyler Seguin show on the Ticket.

What I’m writing: So Much For Happily Ever After. (Hit 48k last night at group!)

Focus On The New

Today’s Daily Calm worked so perfectly with what I’m reading in Atomic Habits. So often in the new year we focus on the old instead of the new. On what we’re going to fix instead of on the process we will incorporate to get what we want.

It’s interesting how often that message has been hammered home to his week. Last night Seguin scored, and after the game the reporter asked him about finally making that goal. He said he was going to continue his focus on the process and not the outcome. That’s important. He’s an elite level athlete and that focus is essential.

I want to bring the process focus to all areas of my life.

I love the Daily Calm app and meditation.

What I’m Loving: again, the DoTERRA On Guard mouthwash (for real, you should try it), Dallas Stars hockey, my writing group, The Daily Calm, holiday FaceTime dates with DD and granddaughter.

What I’m Writing: So Much for Happily Ever After

Breaks Are Easy

I love that winter break has so many days after Christmas this year. Before Christmas and right after things are always so busy. This extra time gives tons of space for rest and binge watching Beachfront Bargain Hunters. 😊

I’ve learned so much about me this year, some completely unexpected and not all of it what I wanted.

But that’s okay.

One of the most important things I’ve learned since starting meditation: tilting my lips up in a slight smile creates a positive physical response. For real. There’s this little ball of positivity that goes through my face and neck and settles in my chest. It’s so weird.

It’s easy to tilt my lips up when I’m mid-break. I know that. It will be interesting to see how it goes during the school year.

One thing I know for sure: I need meditation in my life.

What I’m reading: Atomic Habits

What I’m writing: So Much for Happily Ever After

What I’m loving: STILL DoTERRA On Guard mouthwash (no really! You should try it!), the Dallas Stars, HGTV, LCHF eating

Part the Waters

This time of year is almost always tough in the yearbook advising business. Adding the weight of more school shootings, an awful flu season, the Texas political situation and its impacts educators and their healthcare, and a plethora of life’s emotional dings has made the last six weeks so tough.

Seriously.

This week has pushed and pushed and finally I felt like breaking.

In that moment as I sat in my classroom during my conference looking at what all has to be done and trying to find a plan to make it happen, I looked up and said, Jesus Help.

When I spoke those words I felt so completely broken and yet so completely sure that whatever else happens, God’s got me and I’ve got Him.

Within a couple of hours several little things happened to help relieve some of my worry.

I believe in the miraculous power of God. I believe the biggest miracle of all is God’s unending grace. I believe God had a hand in showing me yet again that if I turn to Him in my always those break down moments don’t have to be so all encompassing.

Yesterday nothing huge changed in the day to day business of a stressful final deadline when deadlines have been a struggle all year. There was no physical “Part the Waters” moment. But that moment of prayer and the peace that came after…the psychological and emotional sense of peace and comfort…it was beautiful.

I’m sitting in my classroom now, and I know it’s going to be okay.

My prayer is this: Lord, help me to remember my why in the classroom instead of letting deadline become my focus. Help me to let go and let You, help me to rest assured in the knowledge that when things are overwhelming, I can turn to You, but I don’t have to wait until that moment. You are always even when I forget.

Opening lyrics to the song that I love so much: When I think I’m going under, part the waters, Lord

When I feel the waves around me, calm the sea

When I cry for help, oh, hear me, Lord

And hold out Your hand

Touch my life Still the raging storm in me

The kid who knows too little

The girl drove me crazy.

She always called me over, always wanted me to hold her hand and walk her through what to do. She’s in a huge class of students who…keep me on my toes. And she wanted my attention 100%.

The thing is she has a great eye, and she’s super creative, and she seems to be a good student. Except in my class. 

In my class she lost 30 photos. In my class she didn’t follow the step by step instructions printed on the sheet in front of her. In my class she wanted my every moment and that just wasn’t possible.

Frustration set in, on both our parts.

Until the middle of second six weeks when she asked a new question. So how do I make a new PowerPoint again? And the girl sitting next to her added, “What is an attachment?” And the one next to her said, “I never really used email before.”

And just like that I realized for weeks I’d been speaking a foreign language to these kids. And the “Mrs. Lee, Mrs. Lee, Mrs. Lee,” girl was actually the brave one willing to ask the questions.

It took three class periods, but in the end they knew what to do, and now when they walk in the classroom, they do amazing work. We lost weeks because I let my frustration get in the way of finding the positive and I didn’t bother talking to and with them to see if I could understand what the heck was wrong.

Ugh.

Something to remember for next year.

Yes, you should be a teacher

Mrs. Lee, I’m thinking about being a teacher, but I just don’t know. What do you think?
My former students ask me this question pretty often. My answer has not changed even though education has.
Yes. Yes, you should be a teacher. No other job is as rewarding as awe-inspiring, as beautiful and life affirming as teaching.

Yes, teaching has changed, and yes, everything is more test centric. Despite that, teaching is still an incredible job.

Yes, kids curse and question authority and their phones will drive you crazy. Kids always cursed and questioned authority. It’s different now for a lot of reasons, but that’s not just an education issue. And the phones are crazy, but walk into any restaurant and look around. It’s the same everywhere, and it’s certainly not just the kids. We get to be part of teaching society how to use those phones successfully instead of letting them control our lives.
Yes, teaching hurts sometimes. When your kids lose parents or grandparents or get kicked out or live in a hotel or come to school dirty and hungry or get involved in the slippery slope of drugs and alcohol or go through bad breakups or fail their STAARs or get criticized and ridiculed for work they were proud of or wreck their cars or drop out–GOD, that last one hurts so bad–you bet it hurts. And that’s why you will be an amazing and wonderful teacher. Because it does hurt you and you will do everything in your power to help your kids through the tough stuff. 

Yes, politicians who are beholden to banks and other special interests will make you crazy. Yes, the politics of teaching can drag you down if you don’t let it energize you. Yes, you will sacrifice sleep and money and health. And still, yes, you should teach.
Unless, the only reason you’re thinking about teaching is the decent starting salary. Because if that’s it, no, no, no, no. You don’t want to teach for the money, I promise. 
Teaching is hard physically and emotionally. It takes everything you’ve got to do it well, and there will be days you suck it up in the classroom, and those days can have terrible consequences if you’re not immediately aware. You will go home Fridays and crash. You will spend hours (and sometimes $$$) on lessons that fall flat. You will lay sleepless in bed staring at the ceiling worrying about a kid in your class, you will ask for unspoken prayer requests for kids going through struggles that seem impossible.
You will gain weight if you are not extremely careful or blessed with great metabolism or someone who works out constantly. You will work sick and miss moments with your family. You will sit through meetings wondering why on earth they didn’t just send an email or read emails wondering why on earth they didn’t have a meeting. You’ll go through great new concept after great new concept after great new concept discarding the one that came before for the new until your head is spinning and you can’t remember what you’re supposed to be doing.
And still, you should be a teacher.
Because yes, there is heartache and frustration, but there is so much more. You are changing the world, lighting a light, showing the way, challenging and enlightening and loving kids to success. And honestly, there is no better job in the world.

If you feel like maybe you want to teach, try and see. Give yourself three years to discover if the classroom is your calling. If it’s not, that’s okay too. You’ll still look back on your time with kids as an educational experience. If it is your calling, you have found an amazing life journey and the best job in the world. ❤️

A Moment

In my classes we’re always talking about capturing moments. Today I had an epiphany.

It started yesterday at in-service when Dr. Cupp told us about the Five Blessings and how they can impact our kids. 

Today was the first day with kids after break. I originally planned a big lesson because we’ve got work to get done. But yesterday I scrapped that.

Sometimes I do a goal setting lesson. Today I decided to make it a dream lesson and to try to help the kids feel connected.

I knew it would work in yearbook, but photo is a different monster. The kids in photo didn’t sign up for what they’ve done this semester. They didn’t know the amount of work they’d be doing for yearbook. At times about half the class has been resistant since Thanksgiving. I almost let the fear of their resistance let me back out of a powerful lesson.

The lesson is certainly not new, and I totally stole bits and pieces of it over the years.

I had the kids grab a piece of blank colored paper and write their name at the top then tape the paper to their backs. Then I had them use markers and write nice things about each other.

I worried someone would be mean or someone would opt out. Once that starts it’s a tidal wave of whiny. But I still did the activity.

When they were done one of kids said “What do we do with this now?”

I said it was up to him. He could throw it out during passing period or keep it. It was completely up to him.

The kids spent several minutes reading their signs and thanking each other before we transitioned to the next activity: the I Want list. That list is powerful. I’ve always loved sharing the power of writing your I Wants down with kids. Often they’ll freak out stressing over the paper until I tell them the list is for them NOT me.

Today at the end of class I watched three kids throw the blank paper with compliments away. But before the end of class I watched several kids fold their papers up and put them away. 

Day one. No deadlines, no regular lesson plan, but today a class of kids felt good about themselves. And today this teacher learned to go with her gut and not let fear keep her from trying. 

 

#YearbookForever

When my first principal called and asked me to take over yearbook, I said no. In my mind, I said a whole lot more than no. Newspaper was part of my soul. I’d grown up revering Walter Cronkite and reading newspapers. I fell in love with journalistic writing in high school when my adviser Mrs. Gillespie introduced me to the wonderful world of UIL and then taught me how to win.

We toured TRN and the people working at paste up with the light boards and glue and tape were so happy. And the smell of ink and paper…ahhhh. Heaven. And the reporters with their cubicles and frenetic pace. And the editor and his big office with the giant conference table for planning the issues. Yes. This was perfection. I’d found my purpose.

But yearbook? No. Just no. It was a bunch of debutantes and cheerleaders and preppy boys. No, thank you. (Former students, stick with me here. There’s a moral to this story.)

The excuse I gave was not so disparaging. I just started my MA, so I wouldn’t have time. No, thank you.

But that principal didn’t take no for an answer. He told me to call a crosstown J adviser I knew from student teaching who advised both programs and who had finished her MA advising both. I called Linda Fain, and she told me I’d be crazy not to do both because teaching English was waaaayyyy more difficult than advising yearbook.

So, cheerleader, debutantes and preppy boys all, I took on the job of yearbook adviser. It took less than a day for me to realize stereotypes suck for a reason. Because yes, yearbook was filled with all those types of kids. Just like newspaper, it was filled with all types of kids period. AND cheerleaders, debutantes and preppy boys were the same kind of wonderful as all the other types of kids out there.

By this time I had three years of newspaper kids, so the program was finally mine. I knew nothing about yearbook, though. I mean NOTHING. I only had one of my high school yearbooks (now one of my biggest regrets). I never thought yearbook was important. I mean it was pretty and all, but it was filled with all the “popular, preppy, pretty” kids so who cared? (Again, stereotypes suck. Man, I had a chip on my shoulder I didn’t even know existed back then.)

My first group of editors taught me the truth about yearbook. Yes, the yearbook is filled with photos of kids who carry the school’s spirit. If they go to everything, they’re in the book more. AND they should be.  BUT the yearbook is so much more. It’s a writing, art and creativity laboratory where kids take the school and transform everything that’s awesome about it into a book format so that those memories last forever. It’s about making an archivable product that people open and say, Holy Cow! This is the best school ever. I want to go there! It’s about telling those stories that last forever in the best way possible: through words, photos or design. It’s about giving the invisible a voice, if they want it, and showing how even though we’re all different, we’re still all Raiders (insert whatever mascot if you’re reading this and not part of Raider Nation). It’s a stereotype breaker, a demanding product that requires hours of time, complete collaboration and thinking outside the box or else it gets redundant, and you don’t want that. It’s on the job training, summer training, fall training and constantly working to get better and better and better. It’s OHMYGOD nerve-wracking because what if people don’t like it?!? It’s a place to learn the thick skin needed when you have the courage to publish your work because GUARANTEED someone WON’T like it. It’s fun and amazing and hard and, dear Jesus, it’s expensive. BUT it’s also so, so priceless.

And it’s a lot like newspaper. Different, but the same.

And I love it.

That chip on my shoulder was smashed to pieces when I took on the yearbook, and I’m a better teacher because of it.

I thought yearbook was fluff. I’ve learned it’s life. It’s the school. It’s forever.

I’m so, so blessed.

IMG_8884

18 yearbooks advised this year. 21 newspapers. #Awesome

Storm clouds on the classroom horizon

stormcloudsExhausted after a crazy deadline, I walked into my house to find my husband watching the news. Instead of the normal, “Hey Babe,” he said, “I guess you heard the news today.”

The dread that hit was hard and fast. I hadn’t seen the news. I turned off my news notifications a year ago after yet another school shooting. I was sure he was going to tell me there’d been anther Sandy Hook.

I was wrong. Instead he told me a story about a girl with a phone in a classroom that ended up with her being tossed across a classroom floor for non-compliance.

By now everyone knows about that incident. If you don’t, feel free to click the link.

When I first heard the story, I’m going to be honest, my immediate response was what the heck? What child thinks it’s okay to ignore and defy the teacher, ignore and defy the principal and then ignore and defy a police officer? And I put the face of some of my defiant students over the years on that kid’s face and thought, man, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished I could see a kid get put in their place for that kind of behavior.

But then I saw the video.

And then I had a few hours to let that video sink in.

And then I felt real shame for my initial response.

The next morning I heard a great interview on NPR. The sheriff of the town explained that he didn’t believe his officer should have been placed in the situation, but once he was, he should have known better than to lay hands on a non-violent offender. End of story.

I’ve watched the ensuing media coverage of the incident with interest.

I don’t know what was going on in that classroom. I don’t know that school’s disciplinary process.

More than anything I know when you walk into a classroom as a student, you are entering a social contract with the teacher. School is a social contract. Students are choosing to follow the rules, to obey, to take part in their classes.

If they choose not to enter the contract, frustration follows and that frustration can lead to confrontation. And if a confrontation gets ugly enough, we lose the kid. It’s over. They’re done.

I try to act before I lose the kid.

Some kids are lost before they walk in our classrooms. We have to try to change that. Sometimes we’re successful, sometimes we fail.

I don’t have a clue where that kid on the video falls on the spectrum of discipline issues. Does she have some disorder where the mere suggestion of reprimand sets her off? Was she used to doing whatever she wanted no matter what? Is there a known set of consequences to the students for non-compliant behavior?

Her peers were videoing the incident, obviously with phones. Were other children allowed to have phones while she wasn’t? The list goes on and on and on.

Phones are a problem at school. Even with a lenient phone policy at school, phones are a problem.

Kids want to be on them when they’re done working. Many don’t know how to fill time without their phones. But shoot, how often do you see adults on their phones in church, on dates, at the movies? I’ve seen adults take phone calls in the middle of meetings and TALK while a speaker was presenting. Phones are a problem period.

But phones aren’t the biggest problem in this incident.

I asked my beginning students how many of them have been in a class where a kid decided they weren’t going to comply with the unspoken agreement between the teacher and her class. 100% of them raised their hands.

This is nothing new. Kids have been bucking the system since schools began. But the numbers showing blatant disrespect and defiance are definitely on the rise.

I don’t know what the answer is, really. If I did, I would be a millionaire.

I know the problem is larger than the talking heads are reporting. Defiant and disrespectful students are part of our everyday lives now. We can’t be calling police on them and seeing them tossed across a classroom. We need policies in place that put consequences into play immediately, but those consequences need to be disciplinary SCHOOL consequences.

We can’t be okay with disrespect or defiance from our students, but we can’t be okay with violent responses to non-violent behavior. We just can’t.